He looks a lot sharper and if we can do that for another couple of weeks, when he comes back he’ll be an asset for us... Then, on the training pitch, I’ve spoken about that psychological impact, he definitely thinks he’s going to come back and be at it this time.
Those were the words of manager Jack Ross on Charlie Wyke’s impending return to fitness in early December. Having featured as part of the first team squad for almost a month now, am I right to be a concerned about the form of our star summer signing since his return to the squad, or are there other factors at play in his lukewarm start to his Sunderland career?
During a summer of change on Wearside a staggering total of fourteen players arrived at the Stadium of Light, and whilst many came at low cost or on frees, the arrival of Bradford City’s Charlie Wyke for around £600k was far and wide the biggest outlay and was perceived as our game changer in the transfer market. At that time, many saw Wyke as the man our promotion bid was to be based around.
Since then, however, things haven’t quite worked out as originally planned yet, with the former Boro academy product spending two lengthy spells on the sidelines and with only one goal in league action so far this season.
Thankfully the Sunderland fanbase are as patient now as many can remember, appreciative of the fact a change of ownership, management, mindset and playing staff all came at once - most supporters understand the club is still very much in a transitional period and molding the squad is not an overnight process.
In fairness to Wyke, Jack Ross openly admitted that he rushed the striker back in September. But following on from some glaring misses at Charlton last week, his hard-working yet ultimately fruitless performance against Luton at the weekend left an awful lot to be desired, causing me to question what exactly he is bringing to the side.
With fifteen-goal top scorer Josh Maja missing due to illness, Wyke was given the lone striker role and was tasked with winning balls in the air and distributing them to the creative trio of Lynden Gooch, Chris Maguire and Aiden McGeady just behind him. A quick look at the statistics (via InStat) shows exactly where he struggled in Saturday’s game.
Sunderland most definitely played a more direct game than they would have if Josh Maja had been fit, and thus, more balls were long and straight - Wyke won six of his nineteen aerial duels, committed five fouls and had three shots, all of which were off target.
However, long balls from the back where were he was most successful, as he won three balls from the boot of Jon McLaughlin and two from Jack Baldwin. It was further up the field and in the final third where he struggled the most.
There’s a theory that his current ineffectiveness could be due to the style of our wingers - McGeady and Gooch in particular - and the age it takes them to get the ball into the box.
On Saturday, Wyke was often left standing still waiting for a cross into the area, rather than attacking the diagonal ball, which - based on his form at Bradford - is clearly his biggest strength.
Only Max Power seemed willing to force the issue, where the likes of McGeady, Gooch and Maguire seemed more likely to hang onto the ball longer, meaning the big striker had a much tougher job getting on the end of the deliveries.
It’s a lot harder to power a header at goal when you’re stood waiting an eternity to meet it.
So to answer the question, should we expect more from Wyke? In short, yes, but there’s an old adage that says stats don’t always tell the full story and there’s definitely scope for an argument that says a team with our style of attacking play is too slow in the final third and doesn’t necessarily play to the strengths of a big target man.
Charlie has had the opportunity to notch a couple over the past few weeks which would have dampened some of the fears fans like myself are having, but time is on Wyke’s side with regards to his Sunderland career and whichever side of the argument you find yourself, everyone wants to see the big man succeed here - and there’s more Wyke himself and the team behind him can do to help him pose more of a threat in front of goal.